Home Video Hovel: The Incredible Melting Man, by Aaron Pinkston
Dracula. Frankenstein’s monster. The Invisible Man. The Creature From the Black Lagoon. The Incredible Melting Man? While fully embracing the classic Universal monster movie tropes, William Sach’s The Incredible Melting Man attempts to update them through its late 1970s low-budget horror aesthetic. The case of the new Blu-ray edition of the film calls the film “The first new horror creature” — while I’m not exactly sure what that means, it sets the stage well enough.
The lasting legacy of the old Universal horror flicks is that these monsters could also have humanity, that you could root for Dracula because he was so cool or weep for Frankenstein’s monster because of his tragic quality. The success of this era ensured that horror films weren’t just a passing fancy, and as the genre has evolved through the years, many of the best have relied on this principle. The Incredible Melting Man tries to put us in the head of its monster, an astronaut subjected to high levels of radiation while on a mission to the rings of Saturn, through aural flashbacks of his mission — this slim connection to a disgusting figure roaming around an unnamed countryside looking for flesh works just as much as the film would allow. I found myself wanting for the melting man to be cured, but that’s mostly hoping for something, anything to happen at all. If he was shot and killed in the first half hour of the movie it would have had the same effect.
The film tries to straddle a line between legitimate artistic cinema and horror schlock. This approach produces a surprisingly well-shot film, full of beautiful landscapes (enhanced by the wonderful Blu-ray transfer), a nice sense of shot selection, and a few interesting (though perhaps unsuccessful) directing choices. Comparing it with other low budget horror films from its era, like The Last House on the Left or The Hills Have Eyes, this film doesn’t have the dingy look and feel. Unfortunately, it ultimately doesn’t go far enough in either direction. The Incredible Melting Man desperately needs more connection to its fully-human characters in order to be a more serious piece or more self-knowing humor to be something that could develop a cult. Above all, though, it needs more fun. The film is slim, slow and straight-forward, yet far too contemplative for the genre. There are an adequate number of kills and plenty of gory gloop, but all with little urgency. It often stalls with scenes of banal conversations with uninteresting characters talking slowly and without emotion. In the moments of tension, when these uninteresting characters walk around in the dark just waiting to get pulled in by the melting man, shots tend to linger too long to build a cohesive sense of terror.
The film’s saving grace (and probably the only reason The Incredible Melting Man is still in the cultural conscious) is the art and makeup effects from future Oscar winner Rick Baker. By 1977, Baker had already worked on a handful of films, though looking through his filmography on IMDb, much of his work prior to The Incredible Melting Man went uncredited. Billing itself with reference to the classic Universal films, the film is setting up the importance the creature design — we not only connected with the classic monsters, but they looked undeniably cool (could you imagine The Phantom of the Opera or Frankenstein without exemplary makeup effects?). Baker obviously doesn’t disappoint — the effects are drippy, gloopy and gross in all the right ways. With the film’s conceit that the melting man is, well, melting throughout the night, the effects change slightly throughout. Largely because of this, the melting man design is always interesting to look at, even when you want to look away. The only recommendation I can give for The Incredible Melting Man is for diehard fans of Rick Baker’s work — the film is one of the earliest examples of his work and showcases his artistic mastery.
Included in the new Blu-ray, released by Shout! Factory’s “Scream Factory” label, is a commentary from writer-director William Sachs, interviews with Sachs and Rick Baker, and a photo gallery. None of these features are exciting enough to warrant a blind buy, but will be probably be wonderful additions for fans of the film. If there are any out there.